Talent is a good and wonderful thing. But talent means little unless it is put to use.

Great leaders, like great artists, are known by the fruits of their labor.

The people who make a real difference are the ones who are willing to act, even under pressure. In fact, someone who makes a real difference may or may not have the most talent associated with their action. But they show up, suit up, and do the work, and that’s better than outstanding talent that just stands around.

Action isn’t easy. In what can often be a high-stakes world of business, taking action requires courage, and courage is something that takes time to develop and that takes practice to develop fully. But committing to using talent by acting courageously is a hallmark of a great leader.

In my new book The Intelligent Leader, I discuss shifting from strategy to action in Chapter 6, “Having the Courage to Execute with Pride, Passion, and Precision.” Courageous action is defined by earned pride in what you do, tapping into passion, and using focus to act with precision.

Taking Rightful Pride in What You Do

Some artists are so great that you can recognize their work instantly. An Eames chair or a Zaha Hadid building is instantly recognizable even without someone mentioning their names. Great accomplishments are the result of people who take pride in their work by being absolutely obligated to quality and holding themselves to the highest standards.

There’s another type of pride too, of course. Arrogant pride tends to be unearned and based on the desire for recognition, and it ultimately alienates people and gets in the way of real success. Earned pride, however, can’t be faked, and it comes from taking courageous action and having a standard of excellence.

Passion: Being in “The Zone” and Overcoming Obstacles

Focusing and becoming absorbed in your work motivates you to overcome obstacles.

Do you sometimes become so absorbed in what you’re doing that you completely lose track of time and of the outside world? That comes from passion. Passion is a key driver of all great human endeavors, and it is an element of outstanding leadership.

Passion in your work not only helps you get into “The Zone” where you are completely absorbed and lose track of time, but it also helps you to overcome obstacles. Passion has no choice but to stand up to resistance, and you tap into your passion by knowing and understanding your core purpose. Passion – and the actions that come from it – connect you to your reason for being. Understand your core purpose and you can bring more passion to your work as a leader.

Precision: “Chop Wood, Carry Water”

There is a Zen saying that goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” We sometimes become enraptured with the end results of our actions to the point where we neglect the actual hard work that gets us there. We have to give our best efforts to simple tasks in order to conquer the big tasks and to do that we must focus on the present.

By being in the present moment and focusing on acting with precision, we make fewer mistakes and leave less to chance. We’re not just going through the motions but bringing awareness to every step. And what about after we’ve accomplished something big? We still “chop wood and carry water.” Because our actions deserve our attention and commitment, and great leaders know that.

Making the shift from perspective to action is just one of the dimensions of leadership I explore in-depth in The Intelligent Leader. All dimensions of leadership deserve exploration and attention because each and everyone is necessary for great leadership. The Intelligent Leader comes out on October 15, and I hope you’ll check it out. Whether or not you have a “leadership” job title, developing your inner leadership qualities and outer leadership capabilities will serve you well in life and help make the world better.


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